Chelsea vs. Benfica Champions League Preview: 4 Reasons the Blues Will Win
Chelsea FC play as the visitors today as they travel to Portugal to take on Benfica in the first leg of the Champions League quarterfinal draw.
The huge win that unfurled the sagging sails of club’s ship after beating Napoli 4-1 to advance to this stage has died down, and they have dropped five points out of their last two games. Interim manager Roberto Di Matteo has shown some tactical weakness, and the players have struggled offensively as they have for most of the season.
But all that can be put to rest with a strong victory today. It is critical they at least escape with a goal, as the odds of replicating what they did three weeks ago is highly unlikely.
Here are four reasons they will win the game.
Benfica Is Not That Good
I know the Portuguese aficionados are going to want my head after this, but let’s face it: Benfica is perhaps just above APOEL in terms of talent left in the Champions League. They have a good group of skilled players, but not at the level of the heavyweights.
I know the automatic argument is going to be “they went undefeated in their group, tying United twice!” That is of course correct, but not necessarily representative of anything. The first time the two faced, it was a side of mostly United reserves due to injury and resting players. The second required an own goal to secure a point and were still handled for most of the match.
They lucked out with facing Zenit in the round of 16, where even then they struggled. Giving up three goals in the first leg showed their defensive frailty and now Benfica will be stacked up against a much stronger backline in Chelsea than what they faced in the Russians.
Further proof can be seen in their league. They currently sit in third place in a weaker league than that of the EPL and are trailing Porto, who were recently demolished by the hands of Manchester City. They also lost to Porto at home two weeks ago.
Face it: this team may have the potential to beat the Blues, but if Chelsea plays at the top of their game, this should be a walk-over.
David Luiz and Ramires
As odd as it may seem, but David Luiz and Ramires may be the vital components that get Chelsea their victory. Not because of what they can do for this team, but what they know about their previous club.
Both came to Chelsea from Benfica and are well aware of the style of play and quality of their opponents. Both will also have an advantage in knowing how play them and where their weaknesses may lie.
Roberto Di Matteo would be foolish to at least not sit down with the two and discuss potential tactics.
Both are well aware of the importance they have being in the unique position of knowing more about their opponents than the rest of the team. David Luiz, always the diplomat for peace, has already spent his time trying to quell any notions that Didier Drogba insulted Benfica at the thought of playing them.
Ramires is keeping to his simple ways, telling the London Evening Standard: “I channel my disappointment into positivity ahead of the next match and this is a very good motivation because it always means you are looking forward.”
Whatever the two say before the match matters little in the result. But what they can tell their teammates about their opposition could make all the difference.
Juan Mata Cannot Have Two Bad Games in a Row
I have been suggesting all season that Chelsea’s hopes of winning a game lie squarely on the abilities of Juan Mata. He has become the most influential player on the pitch, similar to how bad games for Messi or Ronaldo can damage Barca and Madrid’s chances, respectively, for a positive result.
His performance against Tottenham on Saturday was by far his worst of the season. He never seemed totally in tune with what was going on; it was almost like he lacked enough sleep the night before. His touches were poor, his passes were to no one and he slipped every 10 steps.
The odds of that happening again, I would say, are slim and in back-to-back games, all but impossible.
He will come out against Benfica and play the way he has all season, bringing the dynamic and attacking flair that gives the team that extra edge to find the net.
Playing just behind the forwards, he should make plenty of runs on his own, setting himself up to receive the ball from Frank Lampard, who can fill in as a pushing central midfielder. This is the exact recipe that got them the win over Napoli and should be used again today.
I am not only expecting Chelsea to win, but also a man of the match award for Mata.
Chelsea Have Been at Their Best in the Champions League
This has been a disappointing season for the Blues. They have come up short on every goal, had a manager sacked and are withering away through age. But oddly enough, the competition that Roman Abramovich wants more than anything is the one they have played the best in.
Look back at the Chelsea season and make a list of the top 10 games they played. Four of them have an argument to make that list, with their victories over Leverkusen, Genk, Valencia and Napoli being the highlights of a year spent in disarray.
Perhaps these aging veterans are well aware that their time to earn a European trophy is dwindling fast as not only their bodies physically wasting away, but so is the philosophy they approach the game with. On the other hand, maybe this crockpot of styles that is now at the club finally makes them better prepared to face the versatility they always needed in Europe.
Whatever the reason, Chelsea look poised to make a run deeper in the tournament based on their history in the league this season.
Why Do You Think They Will Win?
It is a big night for Chelsea fans, as we may be coming to the difficult realization that their best chance of being in Champions League next season is them winning it all this year. But if that is going to happen, they have to start with today and getting a victory at Benfica.
What reasons do you think will get Chelsea that crucial away win?
As always, please leave your comments below and thanks for reading!
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